Arusha, June 22, 2011 (FH) - Whatever the verdicts and whatever the sentences to be rendered by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) on Friday, June 24, to the six persons jointly accused for genocide and crimes against humanity, it will go down in history.

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Judgment of the case dubbed  ‘'Butare Trial'' comes 10 years after the commencement of the trial on June 12, 2001, 16 years after the arrests of some of the accused and more than two years after the case was officially closed.

Nyiramasuhuko (65), former Rwandan Minister for Family and Women Affairs and her son, Arsene Shalom Ntahobali (university student during the 1994 genocide) have been tried alongside four other government officials from Butare prefecture, South Rwanda for their alleged participation in the 1994 genocide which left over  800,000 people dead in 100 days.

The other accused are two ex-governors of Butare prefecture, Sylvain Nsabimana and Alphonse Nteziryayo and two former mayors, Joseph Kanyabashi and Elie Ndayambaje.

Proceedings lasted over 726 days with 59 prosecution witnesses whereas the defence teams fielded a total of 130 witnesses.   

Kanyabashi and Ndayambaje were arrested on June 28, 1995 in Belgium while Nyiramasuhuko and Nsabimana were arrested on July 18, 1997 in Nairobi. Ntahobali was arrested six days later in the same East African country. Nteziryayo was apprehended on April 24, 1998, in Bukina Faso.

Charges and deliberation

Apart from a separate charge of direct and public incitement to commit genocide, Nyiramasuhuko is indicted alongside her son for 10 joint counts including conspiracy to commit genocide, genocide, complicity in genocide, crimes against humanity (murder, extermination, rape and persecution)  and war crimes.

The two former governors, Nteziryayo and Nsabimana and ex-mayors, Ndayambaje and Kanyabashi are booked for nine counts each, namely conspiracy to commit genocide, genocide, complicity in genocide, direct and public incitement to commit genocide, crimes against humanity (murder, extermination, persecution and other inhuman acts) and war crimes. They all denied the charges.

The trial was particularly long because of difficulties with the witnesses, and extreme slowness of the questioning. In addition, several expert witnesses were called in the trial and some would remain for a month in the witness box.

During the proceedings and closing arguments, prosecution claimed before the court presided by Tanzanian Judge William Sekule that the six accused supported the mass killings of mostly ethnic Tutsis in Butare between April and July 1994..

‘'The Butare six heeded the call of then Interim President (Theodore Sindikubwabo) to exterminate ethnic Tutsis[in Butare],'' Holo Makwaia, told the three-bench judges when presenting prosecution's oral arguments. The President's call was made on April 19, 1994.

She argued that during the speech, Sindikubwabo exhorted the crowd to fight Inyenzi (cockroaches, meaning Tutsis).  ‘'Pauline was in charge of pacification campaigns which meant killing the Tutsis,'' Makwaia charged, adding: ‘' Shalom was not very far from following his mother's footsteps as he was a killer and rapist.'

Another prosecuting counsel, Canadian Madeleine Schwarz, who dwelt specifically on Nyiramasuhuko's alleged participation, said that the defendant was instrumental in giving orders to her son, Shalom, Interahamwe militia and soldiers to abduct, rape and ultimately kill Tutsi girls, women and men.

‘'Instead of protecting the desperate families [ as designated to her ministry], Pauline decided to exterminate the families,'' Schwarz argued.

According to the evidence adduced by prosecution witnesses the abductions, rapes and killings occurred at several places including at the prefecture office, Butare University Teaching Hospital, Anglican Primary School (EER) and at the roadblocks erected at various areas in the city.

Another prosecuting counsel, Lansana Dumbuya from Sierra Leone, pointed out how Shalom raped Tutsi women and later invited the notorious interahamwe militiamen to continue the serial rapes.

The prosecution has asked for life imprisonment for all the six accused, a maximum sentence the UN Tribunal can hand down to convicts.

Defence teams on the other hand did not let prosecution arguments go unchallenged. During their submission at different times they called for the acquittal of their clients.

‘'To argue that Pauline Nyiramasuhuko distributed condoms is an insult to her and to the victims and to argue that she even ordered her own son to rape young Tutsi women is an abomination,'' lamented the seemingly irritated Canadian lead Counsel, Nicole Bergevin in her closing arguments.

Canadian Normand Marquis, lead Counsel for Ntahobali claimed during closing argument that his client should be set free because ‘'several prosecution witnesses failed to identify the accused in the court room and others lied.'' And Cameroonian Josette Kadji, lead defence Counsel for Nsabimana declared ‘'Nsabimana never asked anyone to kill Tutsis.''


© Hirondelle News Agency